It’s a little strange to listen to Michael Bay complain about how difficult it was to get his next feature film, “Pain & Gain,” financed and produced. Especially when you consider that Bay’s last three films — all installments in the “Transformers” franchise — have earned more than $2.7 billion worldwide. Oh, and that the budget for “Pain and Gain” — starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as two Miami bodybuilders who become involved in a kidnapping plot that’s much too bizarre to sum up in a few words — is only $25 million. Again, remember, this is Michael Bay we’re talking about. No matter what you think of his movies, you can’t deny that they make heaps of money.
I won’t lie: Bay is making the rounds to promote not a movie but a corn-chip contest. For the last few years, Doritos has run a contest giving aspiring filmmakers the chance to direct the company’s Super Bowl ad. This year, as an added bonus, the winner will also get to “work with” Bay on “Transformers 4.” Bay admits that it’s unclear what kind of “work” this person will do, but he promises it won’t be too menial. Ahead, Bay explains why he wants to work on “Transformers 4” after so adamantly declaring that “Dark of the Moon” would be his last chapter. He also confirms that the series will pick up where the last one left off in Chicago — with Peter Cullen back as the voice of Optimus Prime — and describes just how hard it is for even a multi-billion-dollar director to get a $25 million dollar movie off the ground these days.
You seem like a busy guy.
[Laughs] I am. A little bit. I’ve got TV shows going, trying to develop “Transformers 4,” finishing “Pain & Gain” right now — it’s a fun movie.
I was just reading the article series that “Pain & Gain” is based on. It’s very detailed.
It’s like 30 pages, yeah.
Yeah, it is. And the actors did such a great job on it, too.
So, this contest, how does something like this happen? Does someone approach you and say “Hey, Michael, we have this idea?”
So, my agent says, “I have this Dorito thing.” And I’m like, “What? What are you talking about?” What kind of contest?” And I’m like, “That’s great that you want to put it on during the Super Bowl, but there’s no way. Let me see the spots.” And we’ve seen these spots on the Super Bowl — and they’re memorable spots. I can’t believe that pros had not done them. So, that’s when I said yes to it. it’s a great platform for a young, aspiring filmmaker or actor or writer — whoever wants to put these spots together. This is a great way to launch yourself.
And the winner gets to “work with” you on “Transformers 4.” What does that mean?
It’s not going to be doing my laundry. They’re going to be working on the set in some capacity.
That would be disappointing if they won and, after all that, wound up doing your laundry.
No, no, no. It’s a good opportunity for someone to really see how it’s done. When I was young, aspiring to do what I did, I would have killed for something like this. There’s nothing better than real-life experience.
What if the winner doesn’t like your “Transformers” movies?
Then they don’t have to work. They can opt out of it. I don’t care. If they don’t want to learn, they don’t want to learn. It’s fine. On a “Transformers” set, you work with some of the very best crews in the business. Bar none.
I doubt that scenario will come to fruition.
Yeah. But if they don’t want to do it, they don’t want to do it.
Why do you want to do it? I was under the impression that you were done after “Transformers 3”?
I thought I was done. Then the ride came out [at Universal Studios Hollywood] and the two-and-a-half-hour lines. And then you’re thinking, Oh my God, someone’s going to take this over. And you start doing a lot of soul-searching. Like, OK, I’m about to do a little movie, “Pain & Gain” … and the studio says they want to restart the franchise. And someone could come in here and screw it up, you know? So I’m thinking that if I do this last one, we set it on a new footing, we change a lot of things — but we keep the history of the three in place. But we broaden it so it can be set up and be carried on — it would have a better chance for survival, I guess. You know?
So it was just one of those things. It’s like, when you look what’s going on in the film business with the franchise frenzy right now, why is Cameron doing two more “Avatar” movies? Why is Peter Jackson doing three more “Hobbit” movies that are in the same world as “Lord of the Rings”? When you have a franchise, it’s very hard to give it up.
I’m excited to see you do something different with “Pain & Gain.”
Yeah, and it is fun to do something different. Somehow when you do these movies, they kind of sit in your core a bit. Listen, the press will do whatever they do on “Transformers.” But, the bottom line is, when you go to Universal Studios and you have the two-and-a-half-hour line, it’s hard to give it up. You birth a baby and you want to carry it on.
Well, looking at how “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” did at the box office, it’s obvious that people like these movies. So I can see your hesitation to give it up.
Well, no, you’ve got to do different things in life. But it doesn’t matter. This is probably the last one.
So with the plot of “Transformers 4,” it’s not like the other three movies didn’t happen? It’s not a reboot?
No. We’re basically taking from the history of where it was — or where we left it in Chicago. And we’re going to carry it on from there.
I spoke to Peter Cullen at Comic Con earlier this year. He said he doesn’t know if he’s going to be back as the voice of Optimus Prime or not. He’ll be back, right?
Of course! Of course.
Before the first “Transformers,” you got some heat for the whole “flames on Optimus” thing.
Yeah, I know.
But if you got rid of Peter Cullen, people would be extremely upset.
Listen, when I heard his voice, it gave me chills.
Is “Pain & Gain” done shooting?
Yeah. And the performances are really fun. Wahlberg and Dwayne — Dwayne is so different than you’ve seen him.
People have an idea in their heads when they think of a “Michael Bay movie.” How will the tone of “Pain & Gain” differ from that?
People I’ve shown it to, literally the first thing they say is, “That is really original.” A bunch of people have said that right off of the bat. So, whatever that means. Because when you direct it, you’re kind of inside of it and it’s hard to see it. It’s quirky, it’s funny, it’s twisted — but you get a lot of character in it. To me, there’s an underlying current of, “No one is happy with what they’ve got.” That’s why I’ve always liked it and it has always appealed to me.
I’m happy that you’re doing this movie, but when I read the story I thought of someone like Steven Soderbergh as a director, because of its quirkiness.
But I love those types of movies! I always have. I’ve been a Coen Brothers fan since the beginning of time, you know? I love those type of movies. The thing is, studios aren’t doing those type of movies anymore. I mean, I had to pull to get this movie made.
Why would you have to pull? I feel you could do whatever you want at this point.
After I made them billions of dollars? I don’t know. Because studios just don’t want to do this stuff now. They just want to do these big, big movies or they want to do these tiny little micro-movies. I mean, this is a $25 million movie.
It’s interesting to hear you, especially, say that. Because if anyone has pull …
Believe me, this is just the way the business is. It’s funny. But I know audiences like these type of movies, so, spending that little, it’s not like you’re going to get hurt doing it. And we were able to assemble a great cast. But, let me tell you, it was like film school sometimes.
What do you mean by that?
Because, I mean, literally, the sun was going down, and “Pain & Gain” has a lot of small scenes — the way that it’s written, the way the writers did this kind of cool writing and transitions from scene to scene very quickly. So, there were a lot of location moves, and I’m literally like, “OK, we’ve got 19 minutes before that sun goes down. We’ve got to shoot! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” But it was fun that way, you know?
Did you find yourself enjoying that more than your bigger movies?
Yeah, I loved it. Because there’s no pressure. I wasn’t thinking about robots and the bazillions of dollars we’re spending. It was just fun. Yeah, it’s hard — it’s always hard — but the actors made it fun. And it brought back a lot of memories from Miami doing “Bad Boys” — you know, I was a kid with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence running around on the streets. No one believed in that movie, so there’s some of that.
Do you still feel that way? That people don’t believe in you, as far as a smaller movie is concerned?
They wanted me to do something bigger. There are not a lot of people who do these big movies. So that’s why you have to twist their arm a little bit to do this. So I basically said, “All right, I’ll do ‘Transformers 4,’ we’ll do this little movie — we’ll do both.”
Is that how it happened? That was the deal?
Well, it’s kind of like a little bit here and there, you know? They would have done it. [Paramount chairman] Brad Grey says, “We’ll make whatever you want.”
But it helps that you’re doing the fourth “Transformers”?
But it’s also that I’m friends with the people at the studio. It’s exactly like I said: it’s just from the heart. You don’t want to leave “Transformers” in bad hands. Do you know what I’m saying? So we can set it up in the right way so it can kind of continue on.
Along with the winner of this contest.
Well, listen. It’s hard. I lecture at film schools and whatnot and a lot of kids are like, “How do I break in?” And nowadays, it’s harder for me to say. Because I think it’s tougher. So this is part of what our film community has to do. We’ve got to give back a little bit and help people break into the business.
Well that raises a question: If you were a first-time filmmaker, could you get “Bad Boys” made today?
[Pauses] God, I don’t know. I mean, they didn’t believe in “Bad Boys,” one of the reasons, because black movies didn’t travel overseas. And “Bad Boys” was the first movie that made a lot of money with two black stars.
And that was before Will Smith was “Will Smith.”
Yeah, well, he had just done “Fresh Prince” and they weren’t playing that overseas. I think. It might have been in syndication. But I know the studio didn’t believe in the movie. The way they treated it, they certainly didn’t believe in the movie. I mean, I was ready to quit the business — but I loved working with the guys. But then, bam, I was everyone’s friend when the movie became a hit.
It’s funny how it works that way.
[Laughs] Isn’t it funny?